DETROIT – Shortly after Madonna’s halftime performance at Super Bowl XLVI ended, Chrysler aired a poignant commercial starring veteran actor Clint Eastwood as he declared it “Halftime in America.” The ad marked the second consecutive year that the revived automaker made a huge splash during the Super Bowl.
“It’s Halftime in America,” Eastwood says as he walks through a darkened tunnel. “People in Detroit know something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, and the Motor City is fighting again.”
That message stoked the same amount of pride from Detroiters as last year’s memorable “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler ad, which featured Eminem, a gospel choir, and a reprise of “Lose Yourself.” However, the message also managed to ruffle the feathers of conservative Republicans who felt that the commercial’s message of putting aside differences and unifying as a country was slanted toward President Barack Obama.
“I was, frankly, offended by it,” Karl Rove said Monday on Fox News. “I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics.”
WATCH ‘ED SHOW’ COVERAGE OF THE CLINT EASTWOOD AD CONTROVERSY:
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin tweeted during the third quarter: “Agh. Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad?” That tweet was met with numerous replies, both for and against her message.
When Chrysler and General Motors were bailed out using TARP funds in 2009, Republicans (and ironically Eastwood himself) roundly opposed it. Chrysler, which is now owned by Fiat, received a $12.5 billion bailout from the federal government in 2008. Following bankruptcy restructuring, Chrysler earned $183 million in 2011 — compared to a loss of $652 million in 2010.
Obama supporters trumpeted the commercial as a celebration of one of the president’s biggest successes. The “Michigan for Obama” headquarters tweeted “the U.S. auto industry is back. #Obama2012” after the ad aired.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted: “Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on,” during the third quarter. The ad also featured footage of last year’s pro-union protests in Wisconsin, which also lent credence to some of the Republican concerns that the ad was slanted. This is something that Chrysler denied.
“It has zero political content,” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said on Monday. “The message is sufficiently universal and neutral that it should be appealing to everybody in this country and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t get utilized as political fodder in a debate.”The commercial struck a chord with Detroiters around the country and was the buzz of local television and radio. The debate raged about its political content, but a majority of the responses were that it was more about Detroit than just political wrangling.
“The ad wasn’t political, unless you consider a rallying, pro-America commercial to be political,” said Russ McNamara, an afternoon host on Sports Radio WDFN-AM in Detroit, who used the commercial as a topic during the afternoon drive show.
“I’m not surprised some conservatives have a problem with this spot,” McNamara said. “Their inability to pin the hundreds of thousands of job losses that no bailout would have caused on the president continues to bother them.”
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the son of former Michigan governor and auto company executive George Romney, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in November 2008 entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Those words, and his continued insistence that the auto bailout did not work, has started to come back to haunt Romney in his presidential bid.
Romney has previously been called out by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (who was governor when the auto bailout occurred), current Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, various members of state government, and the United Auto Workers for his position on the bailout. His opinion on the issue may be one of the reasons polls show the president leading Romney in Michigan by a substantial margin.
Eastwood, whose 2008 film Gran Torino was filmed largely in Detroit and Highland Park, is a Republican and former politician. He said on Monday that he stands behind the message of the commercial, despite not being politically aligned with the president, and said there was no political spin to the spot.
“I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama,” Eastwood said to Fox News. “It was meant to be a message about just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK.”
“If President Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith